HUSAYBAH, IRAQ: A new batch of Iraqi troops rotated into service at Battle Position Beirut as the last group was heading out on leave. The Iraqi soldiers are an extremely friendly bunch and very interested in getting to know you. Several of the soldiers spoke English, and served as translators for the groups who came by to say hello. All were extremely interested in the satellite connection and accessing the Internet from such a remote location. Looks of wonder appeared on their faces as they repeated “Internet? Internet!” To be fair, many of the Marines expressed amazement as well.
We exchanged stories and discussed our families. They noticed the picture of my daughter on the open Instant Messenger window, and asked for more. I shared photographs of my family, which brought forth smiles and hearty claps on the back. Many of the soldiers are married and have children, and expressed that they missed their families as well. This is a universal bond all soldiers share.
Their backgrounds varied. The men were from age 18 to 43, and came from all corners of the country. Mohammed is from Najaf, Ahmed is from Mosul, Hussein is from Hit. They came from Basra, Baghdad, Haditha, and small towns across Iraqi which I was unfamiliar. They are Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
During the day, a public works crew from Husaybah requested to repair a water line running from the water tower through Beirut, and was permitted access to the post. The line needed to be dug up, and U.S. And Iraqi soldiers shouldered picks and shovels, and began digging, side by side. The problem was discovered, and the repair was put off until the next day. If fixed, this will gain some good will from the residents of Husaybah.
While the work crew worked, a rocket, or mortar, or RPG, or some other explosive was detonated in the far east of the city. We heard the clap and saw the smoke plume rise. The cause of the explosion was never determined, and no civilian or military casualties were reported. There were no further incidents throughout the day. A hot meal was brought for dinner, and U.S. Marines and Iraqi soldiers joined the line together, and sat an ate on the train platform in small groups.
The Marines of 1st Platoon of Lima Company have varied opinions of the Iraqi soldiers, which range from unimpressed to pleasantly surprised at their courage and fighting abilities. Several explained how Iraqi troops saved their hides during Operation Steel Curtain, when the Iraqis identified a home the Marines were going to enter as being rigged with IEDs. When Explosive Ordnance Disposal arrived on scene and detonated the device, the entire house was destroyed in the blast. “Most of our squad would have been killed in that house. They saved my and my friends’ lives that day” said Lance Corporal Mendoza.
The Marines have worked with several groups of Iraqi troops, they’ll tell you there are good soldiers and bad soldiers, and some units are better than others. This is the story of all armies. The words of respect, coming from these Marines who have set high standards for performance, gives hope for the future of the Iraqi Army.